11.11.2011 – The Penn State Scandal: Conspiracy of Silence? (for TruTV.com Conspiratorium (unpublished))

THE PENN STATE SCANDAL:  WAS IT A CONSPIRACY OF SILENCE?

by Benjamin J Spencer

November 11, 2011

This week, Penn State alumni, trustees, and students watched in horror as in a few short days, the legacies of their beloved football coach, Joe Paterno, and the reputations of most of their university leadership crumbled to dust.

Here’s a breakdown of the skeezy goings-on,  for those of you just climbing out of your sensory deprivation chambers:

Back in 2002, a graduate assistant told Paterno, the winningest coach in major college football history, that he had witnessed assistant coach Jerry Sandusky raping a 10 year old boy in a Penn State locker room shower.  Paterno notified school athletic director Tim Curley, who passed the news on up the chain to Gary Schultz, senior vice president of the university.  So far, so good.

But then nothing happened. A PA grand jury investigation found that in defiance of state law, not one administrator notified any authorities outside of the school, even as other sexual abuse allegations against Sandusky were piling up (eventually involving the abuse and rape of eight children over 15 years, in some instances occurring in the same Penn State locker room).

More and more details of Sandusky’s abuses came to light. Some of them were so blatant and clear-cut, there’s a good chance that if just one of the several officials who knew about Sandusky had simply told police, he never would have had the chance to abuse another child – as he allegedly did again in 2007. Instead, from Paterno, to the assistant coach, all the way on up to the top administrators, they all kept silent.

Even worse, Sandusky was free to continue working with the children’s charity he founded until 2008, when the investigation got going. He didn’t resign from the charity until last year.

Last week, both Curley and Schultz were charged with perjury and failing to report a crime, and the Penn State trustees forced them to step down. The trustees also fired Paterno and school president Graham Spanier.

Thousands of students loyal to Paterno then promptly rioted, and the streets of ironically named Happy Valley were filled with tear gas and overturned TV news vans.

Now to the real question: why the alleged cover-up (alleged because Sandusky and the administrators all protest their innocence)?  What kind of school culture could inspire accomplished professionals to maintain silence for years while an a probable sexual predator used their grounds for vile acts, ran a children’s charity, and all the while, received a pension and walked free?

Some commentators, like this Time reporter, say a cult-like ‘code of silence’ prompted by intense media scrutiny is the culprit, while a seriously pissed-off New York Times editorial  by George Vecsey blames big-money university football itself.

“Ultimately, they all serve the monster that rises on 12 Saturdays a year,” Vecsey said of the disgraced administrators, calling the whole college football system “oppressive.”

He had harsh words for Paterno and other coaches too: “They get so puffed up with trying to go undefeated that they lose sight of reality,” he raged. “Just to run this kind of program demands moral blinkers.”

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10.29.2011 – Conspiracy Roundup: Population Control Shocker (for truTV.com’s Conspiratorium)

Conspiracy Roundup: Population Control Shocker

Benjamin J Spencer
By Benjamin J Spencer
October 29, 2011 3:21PM

What a coincidence: ABC and CBS both claimed “technical difficulties” at the same time protesters getting teargassed by the coppers in Oakland, then cut away.

We agree: this conspiracy theory about how John Elway wants Tim Tebow as a starting quarterback so he can fail and they “can get rid of him” is a head-scratcher.

Jonathan Nolan, writer of the new show “Person of Interest” and brother of director Christopher, talks about his Facebook conspiracy theory.

There’s an obvious attempt by the mainstream media to discredit Occupy Wall Street by painting its goals as confusing or hard to understand. Not so, says Slate.

This liberal blog explores the “reason” Rick Perry wants to see Obama’s report card.

Am I alone, or a Neo-Luddite, to think that this Glorious Vision of our Shared Utopian Future has a sinister edge to it?

Major food companies are starting to reject genetically-modified Monsanto corn.

And is population control just a conspiracy by rich countries, threatened by change, to keep the poor down? Or is it a new form of eugenics? This is an interesting take on a usually unquestioned assumption.

05.29.2011 – Martha Stewart Posts (Tasteful) ‘For Sale’ Sign – Week On the Web – CRAIN’S NEW YORK BUSINESS

Martha Stewart posts (tasteful) ‘For sale’ sign

Media and home decor franchise explores options, while Albany decides on a property tax limit and hedge funder David Einhorn invests in the Mets.

By Benjamin J. Spencer
May 29, 2011 5:59 a.m

Bloomberg News

Even DIY craft maven Martha Stewart knows when she needs help. On Wednesday, her limping Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia announced that it had hired Blackstone Advisory Partners to evaluate its options, including a possible sale of the company.

The news sent MSLO shares soaring nearly 30%—to all of $5 each. The value of Ms. Stewart’s famed franchise, nearly $2 billion back in early 2005, was a mere $250 million after the day’s trading.

It’s been a hard few years for the media and home decor franchise. Magazine ad dollars dried up; a merchandising deal with Kmart wasn’t renewed. In January, NBC dropped Ms. Stewart’s morning television show and its related spinoffs, relegating them to Hallmark Channel oblivion. The company’s CEO position has been vacant since 2008; Lisa Gersh, a founder of Oxygen Media, is slated to assume the post June 6.

The company’s announcement came just as 69-year-old Ms. Stewart, who has had the job title of chief editorial officer the past few years, is set to rejoin its board of directors, ending a five-year banishment due to her 2004 federal conviction for obstruction of justice.

TAX-SQUEEZED SUBURBANITES, REJOICE: Gov. Andrew Cuomo and state leaders agreed to impose a 2% limit on annual property tax increases statewide. The guv says property taxes soared 5.5% per year between 1999 and 2009, and the new cap aims to combat economic decline. Still, the state teachers union said limiting tax increases would devastate low-income schools outside of New York City. Legislators seem set to vote on the cap next month. …

HEDGE FUNDER DAVID EINHORN BET $200 MILLION ON THE METS, buying a minority stake in the financially strapped team. Whether that’s enough to buy a championship, or even downplay owner Fred Wilpon’s recent tongue-lashing, remains to be seen. …

THE HUFFINGTON POST IS NOT OFF THE HOOK, YET. A federal judge declined to throw out a lawsuit claiming the media company’s founders, Arianna Huffington and Kenneth Lerer, stole the idea for the online news site from a duo of Democratic political consultants—a charge AOL Huffington Post Media Group said is “pure fantasy.” …

THE FEDS ARRESTED GERARD DENAULT, the lead manager on the controversial CityTime project, and charged him with receiving $5.6 million in kickbacks from a technology subcontractor. Mr. Denault, who oversaw the rollout of the computerized timekeeping system for more than 100,000 municipal workers, could not be reached for comment. His employer, Virginia-based SAIC, has not been charged with wrongdoing. …

TWO MASSIVE, LONG-VACANT BROOKLYN PROPERTIES WERE FINALLY CLEARED for redevelopment. A judge rejected a community group’s lawsuit and green-lighted a $2 billion redo for the former Domino Sugar factory in Williamsburg. The city is now free to rezone the 11-acre site for a mixed-use residential project. And in Sunset Park, a 1.1 million-acre warehouse shut since 2000 gets its own shot at redemption: The city’s Economic Development Corp. tapped Salmar Properties to redevelop the charmingly named Federal Building #2 for light industrial use.

05.03.2011 – Tennis Championship Series Expands – CRAIN’S NEW YORK BUSINESS

Tennis championship series expands

Series featuring Andre Agassi, Pete Sampras, John McEnroe and other stars will travel to 12 cities this fall.

By Benjamin J. Spencer
May 3, 2011 3:26 p.m.

Former world tennis champ Jim Courier squared off many times against the greats during his career, including players like Andre Agassi, Pete Sampras and Michael Chang. But he seems to be as excited as any fan about watching some legendary rivalries back to life as part of his revamped Champions Series tour, which will kick off this fall.

The HSBC Tennis Cup will inaugurate the series on Sept. 22 at the Bank Atlantic Center in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. John McEnroe and Messrs. Sampras, Chang and Courier will compete in three matches that night. Those four champs and veteran stars Bjorn Borg, Mats Wilander and Mr. Agassi will then go on to compete in a whirlwind 12-city tournament competition over five weekends in September and October.

“We are thrilled to reunite seven legends who have won an astonishing 52 Grand Slam singles titles among them,” Jon Venison, a founding partner of the Champions Series and co-founder, with Mr. Courier, of Manhattan-based InsideOut Sports and Entertainment said in a statement.

Though the New York City metro area won’t be included in the tour this year, the series’ reach has expanded, Mr. Courier said. The partners scored veteran live entertainment impresario Larry Magid, who is producing all of the events.

“We’re reaching more cities than we’ve ever been able to play in before,” said Mr. Courier. The condensed schedule, with three matches a night played over the five weekends, “is really meant to be player- and fan-friendly.”

Scheduled venues include Boston, Phoenix, and Los Angeles. But Mr. Courier and his company also made a concerted effort to include a wealth of markets not necessarily geared to tennis—Minneapolis; Buffalo, N.Y.; and Detroit among them. The expanded locations allow pro tennis to reach out to fans in places it is rarely seen, Mr. Courier said.

“Of the 12 cities, nine of them do not have any high-level tennis events,” he said. “It’ll be something special for the fans, all these big names coming to compete in their town.”

Past Champions Series tournaments saw players competing in a more grueling set of matches concentrated in one city over a few days.

“I think the series in previous years became a little bit limited,” said Mr. Courier. “We haven’t been able to get out to as many cities as we would have liked due to the multi-day tournament structure.”

The pared-down one-night, one-city tournaments this year are “a much better fit for the players,” he said. “It’s the perfect amount.”

The revamped schedule helped pull in big sponsors, including Staples, Geico and HSBC. The overall champion will receive $500,000 out of a million-dollar bonus pool, with second and third place scoring $350,000 and $150,000, respectively.

Mr. Courier enjoyed a storied 13-year run in professional tennis, winning four Grand Slam titles and 23 tournaments, and in 1992, becoming the first male American singles player since John McEnroe to rank No. 1 in the world. Along with Mr. McEnroe, Pete Sampras, and Andre Agassi, he also led the U.S. Davis Cup team to world domination twice in the early 1990s.

After retirement in 2001, he proved more enterprising than many former pro athletes, co-founding his own sports and entertainment event and promotion company, InsideOut, and throwing himself into charitable causes like his St. Petersburg, Fla. inner-city youth program, Raymond James Courier’s Kids.

Now he relishes his role as captain of the current Davis Cup team, where he mentors U.S. talent like Andy Roddick, 10-time Grand Slam doubles champs Bob and Mike Bryan, and 11th world-ranked men’s singles player Mardy Fish.

Messrs. Fish and Roddick currently place No. 11 and No. 12 in the world, and the Davis Cup outlook so far is promising, with the U.S. team defeating Chile 4-1 in the first round in March of this year.

But the overall numbers suggest U.S. men’s tennis is struggling. No Americans stand in the Top 10 in the world, according to ATP rankings, and only seven American male singles players rank in the Top 100. Meanwhile, European players like current No. 1-ranked Rafael Nadal continue to dominate major competitions.

“The big events in tennis are doing incredibly well,” said Mr. Courier, but keeping American attention focused on the sport is “a little bit challenging” due to a lack of exposure. “Only four times a year do the top players compete in American events,” he said. “We don’t really get a lot of momentum.”

The veterans on the series have plenty of that, though. “They like this. They want to compete,” said Mr. Courier, adding that he particularly looked forward to the match-up between Messrs. McEnroe and Borg. “Andre [Agassi] in particular wants to get out there and thanks the fans for all they’ve done for him.”

01.30.2011 – The Week on the Web: Jan. 24-30 – CRAIN’S NEW YORK BUSINESS

The Week on the Web: Jan. 24-30

Retailers expect super sales

By Benjamin J. Spencer
January 30, 2011 5:59 a.m.

Newscom

The sought-after jerseys won’t be Jets green, but Super Bowl-related retail spending this year is expected to top $10.1 billion—a 13% increase over 2010’s take, according to the Retail Advertising and Marketing Association.

Football fans, possibly piqued by a showdown between perennial powerhouses the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Green Bay Packers, are expected to shell out big-time this year for team apparel, food and beverages, and electronics, with an average tab of $59.33, according to the association. For instance, at least 4.5 million people, or about 4.5% of the game’s estimated audience, are expected to buy new televisions for the event; that’s up from 3.6 million last year, when the New Orleans Saints beat the Indianapolis Colts.

Even without a New York team hitting the field, local electronics retailers are gearing up for a run on flat-screens. Best Buy, with seven city locations, hopes the TV sales will help it regain ground after a lackluster holiday season, and Manhattan’s own J&R is slashing prices on some giant sets by as much as $600 leading up to Super Bowl Sunday.

NASSAU COUNTY LOST ITS INDEPENDENCE when the state’s Nassau Interim Finance Authority took over the county’s finances, after reports of flawed bookkeeping and flat revenues led to a dismal Moody’s credit rating. The takeover halts the county’s short-term borrowing for operating expenses and could result in wage freezes for county staffers. New York state bailed Nassau out once before, in 2000, to the tune of $100 million.

… THE PACKED SIDEWALKS OF SOHO should get a little cleaner now that the City Planning Commission has approved the creation of a SoHo Business Improvement District. The green light came amid objections by some residents and the local community board. The proposed BID will add to the 63 other business improvement districts currently spread over the five boroughs. Some residents had argued that a SoHo BID was unnecessary, since SoHo already draws lots of tourists. The BID still needs City Council and mayoral approval.

… J.C. PENNEY’S BIGGEST SHAREHOLDER JOINED ITS BOARD OF DIRECTORS on the same day that the retail chain announced plans to close 25 stores. William Ackman of Pershing Square Capital Management, who bought up a 16.5% share in the retailer last October, has a reputation for buying into and then shaking up companies he thinks are undervalued. Vornado Realty Trust’s Steven Roth, whose company owns 9.9% of the retailer’s stock, was also named to the board.

… THE NONPROFIT CENTER FOR JEWISH HISTORY PAID OFF ITS LONG-STANDING DEBT after an 18-month capital campaign flushed out some generous donors, including the Fairholme Foundation, which gave $6.8 million. Another 19 donors helped erase the $30 million debt incurred since moving to its West 16th Street location.

… ADVERTISERS CONTINUED TO SHED SKINS, MTV’s new teen drama that has drawn criticism for its frank depiction of sex and drug use among the underage crowd. Subway shops and Schick razors withdrew their advertising, following the flight path of Taco Bell, L’Oréal and Foot Locker.

A version of this article appeared in the January 31, 2011 print issue of Crain’s New York Business.